‘I am not who I was’: Michael Rosen on surviving Covid – extract | Poetry

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Day 12. The year’s seasons roll by in a night: sweats,
freezes, sweats, freezes. Wondered whose mouth
I had: I didn’t remember it as made of sandpaper.
Water is as good as ever.
Tweet from @MichaelRosenYes, 27/03/2020

Feeling Unwell

Feeling Unwell by Michael Rosen

Listen to the author read a poem from his book Many Different Kinds of Love

Get tested, says my friend John.

The GP has closed.
A recorded message at the surgery
says to not come in
and not go to A and E.
If you think you might have Covid-19,
call 111, it says.

I call 111.

I get through to the Ambulance Service
and talk to a man
who asks me some questions.
No, I’m not coughing, I say.
No, I don’t feel worse today
than I felt yesterday.

He tells me to keep taking the paracetamol
and ibuprofen.

I do.

In the spare room at home
I say to Emma
it feels like I can’t get enough air.
There isn’t enough air.
‘I can’t catch up,’ I say.
There are moments
I feel hotter
than I’ve ever felt before
and moments when I am colder
than ever before.
I shudder as if I am naked
out of doors.

We look at the instructions:
Don’t call the GP
Don’t visit the GP
Don’t go to A and E
Ring the ambulance service.
I get through.
He asks me if I’m feeling worse than yesterday.
No.
He asks me if I’m coughing.
No.
He says he thinks I’m fine.
Keep taking the paracetamol and Nurofen,
There isn’t enough air.
I can’t catch up.

The doorbell rings.

Emma has asked our friend, a neighbour
who is a GP, to visit.
She gives Emma
a contraption to check if
I’m absorbing oxygen and
waits outside on the doorstep.
Emma hands it back to her.
She calls out:
‘You have to go to A and E right now,’ she says.
‘I can’t really walk,’ I say, ‘I get the shakes
just going to the loo.’
‘You have to go now,’ she says, ‘bump downstairs
on your bum,’ she says, ‘I’ll ring them to tell them
you’re coming,’ she says.

Emma drives me to A and E
I am panting.
It’s night.
The road is empty
The moment I go in
I am surrounded with people in masks.
They put an oxygen mask over my face.

Messages from Emma to Michael

05/04/20 10:31
It’s a beautiful sunny morning. Today is Sunday, day 9 – you have got yourself through 8 days and nights Mick – I know how uncomfortable and scary that has been – but you have done it – brilliant – keep calm and keep taking it v slowly. There is NO RUSH – we r not going anywhere! Xxx Love e x

Just spoke to nurse v quickly. She said you r stable, calm and just having a wash – they had to increase your levels last night by the sound of it, but it also sounds like you have settled again this morning. These nights r very hard Mick, I know. Xxx e xxx

18:52
Dr told me you are all stable again and that you look better today – that you have been in a different position on your tummy which is helping. And you’ve been having something to eat. This all sounds v like progress to me & I want you to be encouraged and feel reassured that although it may feel v slow going & v hard work, you r going in the right direction. Melon fruit cocktail and Tango on its way tomorrow. Lots of love e xxxx

19:58
You know the shit has hit the fan when the Queen is making a speech and it’s not even Christmas … Xxx

In the early hours of Monday 6th April a doctor rang Emma to say that they were going to re-admit Michael to intensive care and place him in an induced coma on a ventilator, and that he had agreed to this.

06/04/20 00:52 We love you so much – have a good rest now and we’ll see you very soon love you xxx e xxx

A doctor is standing by my bed
asking me if I would sign a piece of paper
which would allow them to put me to sleep
and pump air into my lungs.
‘Will I wake up?’
‘There’s a 50:50 chance.’
‘If I say no?’ I say.
‘Zero.’
And I sign.

illustration of michael rosen by chris riddell
Illustration: Chris Riddell

Recovery

Very poorly.
It’s something they say about me.
Every so often a doctor or nurse
stands by my bed and says,
‘You were very poorly.’
I’m starting to expect it.
They often seem pleased – surprised almost –
that I’m less poorly.
I get the feeling that some people
who were very poorly, died.
I didn’t die.


I chew over the word ‘liminal’
and remember how in the class I teach
at university we talked about how portals
in fantasy stories are ‘liminal’,
a space or moment ‘in between worlds’
or on the edge of one world but not quite
in another,
where things are transient, temporary
or provisional
but it can be a moment full of promise
or it can be a moment of anxiety or danger:
think the Alice books,
Alice going down the rabbit hole,
and through a looking glass.
Or sitting in the waiting area at an airport.
I think of a train journey to a summer camping holiday
when I was 8 years old, with the land one side
and the sea on the other.

I start to believe the edges of my body are liminal,
they are touching other worlds
sheets, blankets, the bed, the ‘fence’
on the side of the bed, the pillows
and it is all this that stops me sleeping:
they are all edges.
So I bring my hand up to my face
and put it under my cheek.
It feels like I’ve found myself
something that’s not on an edge
and I’m back with me.

I sleep well that night.


The ward is dark.
I can hear a metal purr
from the other side,
then a bubbling syrup.
He coughs.
More bubbling.
It must be coming up from his chest.
The metal purr must be sucking it up.
A light is on behind the curtains
over there.
The nurse tells him to keep still.

illustration of a hand on a walking stick by chris riddell
Illustration: Chris Riddell

Rehab

They’ve been worried
about my low blood pressure
but they’ve brought me the Daily Mail
so it’ll be fine in just a moment.


I try to walk to the loo
without using Sticky McStickstick.
I stagger.
I think of:
M People, Heather Small:
I sing to myself
‘Search for the hero inside yourself.’
When I get there
I sit on the loo
wondering how many people
have sung,
‘Search for the hero inside yourself’,
to get themselves to the loo.

Going Home

I’m a traveller
who reached
the Land of the Dead.
I broke the rule that said I had to stay.
I crossed back over the water,
I dodged the guard dog,
I came out.
I’ve returned.

I wander about.

I left some things down there.
It took bits of me as prisoner:
an ear and an eye.

They’re waiting for me to come back.
The ear is listening.
The eye is the lookout.


Two physios come over.
They ask me to walk across the room.
They say that’s very good.
They ask me to push my legs against their hands.
They say that’s very good.
One of them asks me what are
my longterm objectives.
I stop and think.
What are my longterm objectives?
Do I have longterm objectives?
Should I have longterm objectives?
I would like to write a book
about a French dog called Gaston le Dog.
I don’t say that.
I say that I would like to
be able to walk to the Jewish deli on the corner
and wheel the shopping back
in our trolley.
The physio smiles.
She writes it down in her book.
I’m trying to say that going shopping
and bringing it back
seems huge,
much bigger than anything I can do now.
It feels like a longterm objective.
Anything else? she says.
Live for a bit more? I think,
and I’ve never bothered to pickle cucumbers,
I just buy them,
but my mother made lovely pickled cucumbers,
I would like to try that one day.

You’re doing very well, they say.


I am not who I was.
I am who I was.
This is not me.
This is me.

I am now the person
who had Covid:
the thing that came in March

I am now the person
who disappeared
in April and May

I am now the person
who peers into the mirror
hoping his left eye
will see what the right eye sees,
catching a glimpse of the blackness
of the big pupil
looking back at me in hope.

I am now the person
who hears the telephonic trebly sound
through the hearing aid
in his left ear,
that makes the sound of a kettle boiling
into scream.

I am now the person
who is alert to every twinge
or mark anywhere on me.
I am getting to know this person.
This is not me
This is me

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘I am not who I was’: Michael Rosen on surviving Covid – extract | Poetry

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